A Legacy: The Dartmouth Ski Team

by Kylee Sibilia | 2/7/18 2:25am

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by Paula Kutschera / The Dartmouth Staff

At this point, many have heard the statistics: including the 2018 contingent of athletes, Dartmouth athletes will have earned nearly 150 spots on Winter Olympics teams. Athletes from Dartmouth have competed in every Winter Olympic Games since the launch of the modern games in 1924. This year, 14 athletes with ties to Dartmouth will compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics and one in the Paralympics. The College’s consistent role as a powerhouse in skiing has been well-documented, but lesser known is the history of the sport’s meteoric rise at Dartmouth, which ultimately led to a culture of excellency and pride that continues to make itself known with the consistent domination of winter sports by Dartmouth athletes today. 

Dartmouth has been an innovator in the ski industry from its inception. Dartmouth’s amour of skiing started in 1909, when the Dartmouth Outing Club was founded. The first intercollegiate skiing competition was held in 1914 between Dartmouth and McGill University in Montreal. The late Dartmouth physics professor Charles Proctor ’00 ran the first slalom race ever organized under internationally accepted rules in 1928, and in 1933 the National Ski Association approved of the first ever National Downhill race, which was held on Mt. Moosilauke. As collegiate ski racing increased in popularity and participation, athletes from Dartmouth consistently placed in the top spots of their events. Particularly during the 1930s and 1940s under the guidance of Walter Prager, the team’s success was unprecedented. 

However, Prager left Dartmouth in the ’40s to be the head ski instructor for the 10th Mountain Division, the mountain warfare unit of the U.S. Army. The 10th Mountain Division was formed in 1943 for combat in World War II. Over the course of the war, a total of 119 male skiers from Dartmouth served in the 10th Mountain Division. In 1945, the division fought many fierce battles in the mountains of Italy.

After the war, Prager designed and oversaw the building of the Dartmouth Skiway, which opened in 1957. Located just 20 minutes north of Dartmouth, the Skiway’s accessibility provides Dartmouth’s athletes with a place to practice, as well as average students with a place to participate in recreational skiing and snowboarding. 

In addition to the Skiway, Dartmouth also used to have an 85-foot-tall ski jump located on what is now the Hanover Country Club’s golf course, as well as a strong collegiate ski jumping team. Unfortunately, in 1993, following the 1980 decision by the NCAA Skiing Rules Committee to eliminate collegiate ski jumping from competition, the jump was torn down. 

In the latter half of the 20th century, Dartmouth has also had a significant impact on Paralympic skiing. Joe Walsh ’84, a vision-impaired Paralympic Nordic skier, is now the managing director of the Paralympics division of the U.S. Olympic Committee. 

Cami Thompson Graves, Dartmouth’s director of skiing as well as the head coach of the College’s women’s Nordic ski team, spoke to the influence of Dartmouth graduates in the  ski industry today.

“This program has been around for over a hundred years and has been instrumental in people who go into snowmaking, or people running ski areas, or starting ski areas, you know, a lot of different aspects of the sport,” Thompson Graves said. “I’m actually involved with U.S. Skiing now, and it’s almost a joke that there are so many Dartmouth people involved.”

Dartmouth’s rich ski history has been the subject of many public features, including the 2010 book “Passion for Skiing,” as well as its 2013 documentary adaptation, “Passion for Snow." But the most influential impact of the Dartmouth ski legacy comes in the form of today’s Dartmouth ski team, which has ranked high in collegiate skiing. 

Alexa Dlouhy ’19, a member of the women’s alpine team, said that Dartmouth’s legacy of excellence and innovation in the ski industry is one thing that draws prospective skiers to the program. 

“We’ve always had a legacy of ski racing and of being trendsetters and innovators and always having a really strong ski team,” Dlouhy said. “So I think that’s something that attracts people to the team.”

The other major factor that allows Dartmouth to consistently attract some of the top skiers in the country is the unique balance it provides between athletic and academic culture.

“In my view it is the school and team that has the best combination of academics and skiing,” Dlouhy said.

With rigorous training regimens, intense academic workloads and a great deal of travel, Dartmouth skiers have some of the most demanding schedules of anyone at the College, especially in the winter. However, as Foreste Peterson ’18, another member of the women’s alpine team, attested, these athletes’ busy lives does not affect the determination with which they approach everything they do.

“When I’m on the ski hill, I know I don’t have a ton of time to get training runs in, which makes me want to make every turn and run count that much more,” Peterson said. “Whereas when I’m in the library, I don’t have that much time also, so you’ve got to make everything count a little bit more.”

The Dartmouth ski team also seeks to promote a team atmosphere of collaboration and support, despite the fact that the men’s and women’s alpine and Nordic disciplines all practice separately and all have separate head coaches. In intercollegiate racing, the combined results of all four disciplines determine Dartmouth’s placement in carnivals and in the NCAA championships. It is for this reason, Thompson Graves said, that a relationship between members of the four teams is so important to their collective success. 

“I think it’s important that we at least get to know each other and have some idea of what’s going on at the other venue when we’re competing,” Thompson Graves said. “Last weekend we were more or less in the same area, which doesn’t always happen, so we had a team meeting at the end of the first day of competition. We could share stories of what had happened during the day, and each discipline could sort of help get other disciplines fired up.”

This collaboration has a significant impact on the team’s success, Peterson said.

“We’re a very close knit team, and we’re kind of just a big family,” Peterson said. “We all just push each other to be better.”

Many members of Dartmouth’s Nordic team compete for the Dartmouth ski team for four years before going on to qualify for the Winter Olympics. However, on the alpine side, many of the athletes who have qualified for the Games compete for the U.S. Ski Team in the fall and winter, taking classes at Dartmouth only in the spring, as part of the infamous “12-year plan.”

Logan Sankey ’20, a ski jumper for the U.S. Ski Team, is one athlete who has taken advantage of the flexibility of Dartmouth’s quarter system, enrolling in classes only in the spring and summer terms, and competing in competitions all over the world during the fall and winter terms. 

When she’s not on campus, Sankey’s competition schedule is intense.

“I’m training seven times a week, two times a day, at least, and then mixed in there are some travel days to get to competitions and stuff,” Sankey said. “It’s a lot of work in a way that’s different from school. It’s a different kind of mental stimulation.”

Sankey said that there are many members of the U.S. Alpine Ski Team who are also currently enrolled at Dartmouth exclusively during the spring terms. 

“We have a good crew of us who are in Park City in the summer and Dartmouth in the spring,” Sankey said. “That’s a really cool community to have when we do come back on campus, that there’s a lot of people I know from the ski team who can help me navigate which classes to take and how to do the 12-year plan and how to make the most out of your time on campus when it’s always really short.”

  The flexibility Dartmouth gives its students to pursue a nontraditional academic path such as this one speaks to the willingness of the College to support even those athletes who might never score points for Dartmouth itself. Sankey expressed her gratefulness for the College’s consistent support.

“The culture at Dartmouth is so much more conducive to skiers and what we’re trying to do with the Olympics and our training,” Sankey said. “It’s easy to work with the administration and figure out what you need to do to graduate and get all your credits and everything, whereas at other schools you would kind of be developing that program on your own.”

Thompson Graves also reiterated the Dartmouth ski team’s willingness to help athletes achieve goals outside the realm of collegiate skiing.

“We really encourage our athletes to think outside of just college skiing,” Thompson Graves said. “We encourage them to go for it and try to make the Olympic team or the national team, and we enable them to work towards goals outside of collegiate skiing when they’re a student and competing at Dartmouth.”

From a history of innovation, to a legacy of success, to a culture of collaboration, Dartmouth has proven that each and every skier who has earned a spot in the Winter Olympic Games did so with the support of a school that has contributed so heavily to the development of competitive skiing as a whole. From the freshmen taking their first steps at the Skiway in a beginner PE class, to the varsity athlete competing for a national title in Europe, many of us share the same common roots of Dartmouth skiing, with all the excellence and inspiration such a legacy entails.